Several years ago, I had the chance to work with an amazing non-profit that was doing important and under-appreciated work in Philadelphia. This organization had a small (they would say “lean and mean”) staff, including one development staff person.
Like many organizations, this non-profit struggled year after year financially. They raised enough money to keep the doors open, and they had a board and an executive director who had a huge vision for what the charity could accomplish… but they could never raise the amount of funding they needed to carry out their vision. Instead, they limped along year after year, raising enough to do a little more each year, but never enough to break out of the pack.
Fundraising Networks Change Everything
When I started working with this non-profit, I told them that their problem was clear: they had a vision that required major new funding, but almost all of their development work was being done by one overworked staff person, supported by a board that was doing as much as they could (and already giving more than they could afford). What this non-profit needed to do was build a fundraising network.
Here’s the thing: unless you’re a major university, hospital, or foundation that has dozens of development staff on board, you’re never going to be able to raise the money you need to thrive without building a fundraising network. On the other hand, even if you only have one development staff member in place (or NO staff members doing full time development), you can raise the money you need to carry out your vision (no matter how large) if you take the time to develop strong and sustained fundraising networks.
Simply put, fundraising networks change everything. That’s why I recommend that one-person development shops spend a significant amount of their time building these networks, and that organizations of all sizes have a plan to build and grow their own fundraising networks.
What is a Fundraising Network?
The concept behind fundraising networks is simple: organizations can raise more when they have a group of committed supporters fundraising on their behalf. These supporters can be donors, board members, volunteers, former clients / alumni, or simply supporters of the organization. The initial fundraising network can grow and evolve, bringing on more layers of support, different coalitions, and employing various tactics to raise money for your non-profit.
It’s a way to exponentially magnify the work of your own staff. Of course, in order for this strategy to work, your non-profit will need to take the time to cultivate the network, support it, develop leaders from among its ranks, and provide it with the materials and motivation it needs to grow and thrive.
Every non-profit, no matter how large or small, should be establishing and supporting a fundraising network that is out making connections and raising money on their behalf.
Let me tell you… building a fundraising network at the organization I mentioned at the beginning of the post took time, but it worked. Two years after I first suggested that strategy to them, they had launched a major fundraising campaign, built several support groups, including a young professionals organization, dramatically increased the capacity of their board, and were well on their way to carrying out their complete vision, not just a small portion of it.
For more information on making this work at your organization, read: Building Fundraising Networks.
Photo Credit: Razorray15